Where Every Business Starts: The DFS

On September 12th, 1962, John F. Kennedy stood before America and the World and declared: “We choose to go the Moon in THIS decade.”

At the time, JFK had barely won his election, the US was “losing” the cold war/space race to the USSR, and the mood in the country was not a positive one. That all changed with one speech.

Mind you: JFK had NO CLUE how we would put a man on the moon. Most NASA folks scoffed and rolled their eyes. But in less than a decade, this incredible feat of engineering & tenacity was accomplished. To this day, 60+ years later, my 8 year old son still talks about it with intense awe and wonder.

What JFK did here is what I call articulating a DFS: “Desired Future State” and I think it’s critical for any entrepreneur or leaders success, bootstrapped or not.

Let’s talk about DFS:

  • What is a DFS?

  • What problems does it solve?

  • How do you use it?

  • What are common mistakes?

What is a DFS?

A clear and specific articulation of something YOU want. Have it include numbers, data, teammates, customer types. The more detailed the better.

Also: ensure its something YOU actually want. The graveyard is littered with great visions that had no ACTUAL desire behind them. Said differently, its a CHOICE. No “should/must/have to” - this is an important nuance from most visions.

It’s not real/doesn’t exist today. It has NOTHING to do with what is or isn’t here today (e.g., resources)

It’s exciting, ambitious and comes from a place of wonder and curiosity

It is “time flexible” - it can be your “DFS” for a great meeting or “DFS” for a great decade. It’s also a “state” you achieve, not some end goal

What Problem does DFS solve?

If you’re reading this so far and saying “Jesse this just sounds like a vision statement or goal,” you’re not crazy.

But there are some important differences: In my experience, visions are not specific enough. And goals tend to be overly specific (usually with a false sense of precision.)

Most important: the word “DESIRED” - this is something you actually want. Most people create goals and immediately make them an Albatross (e.g.: my goal is 1000 customers. "OMG, I’m at 700, I’m a failure! I HAVE to hit my goal.")

That is not inspiring for you or your team. It’s deflating and alienating (I know, I used to do it.)

DFS empowers action vs creating blame: My DFS is 1000 customers. I’m at 700, oh I’m not at my DFS, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO GET TO 1000?

A simple way of saying it: if you are not at your DFS and you still want it, keep going!

How do you use DFS?

Early and often.

I think Yogi Berra said something like, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you may just end up there.” The point is: keeping the DFS front and center at all times is critical to ensure you and the team are always back-solving for it.

Anyone who has worked with me will tell you: “When does Jesse NOT use DFS?”

It’s super obvious for annual or quarterly planning. We always articulate our 10 year, 3 year, 1 year, 3 month DFS (similar to EOS).

Here's an example from a planning session in July 2022 for Kahani, my SAAS company.

I also use it to kickoff a meeting: “What’s our DFS for this meeting?” Or another common one: “What’s success or a 10/10 in this meeting?”

On Monday, you’ll hear me saying “What’s our DFS by Friday?”

It’s especially important to center myself and a team after a setback… “we lost that deal, ok lets rerack and think about our 1 month DFS?”

Anytime you want to jump into the future and work backwards from it, use DFS.

What are the most common mistakes?

There are a lot but I’ll highlight the most common 3 I see, in order:

1) Letting your “current reality” or todays resources/abilities dictate your DFS - working backwards means starting with the future and what you want WITHOUT regard for what’s here today. Does that mean you won’t calibrate to what’s here today? Of course not! You must do this to create a credible plan. But you don’t start there.

2) Collapsing DFS into today and frustrating yourself - this happens to me all the time. My goal weight is 180 LBS. On Sunday, the scale said 182. Today, it says 185. I GET PIST!!! “I’m going backwards!!!”

But remember: 180 is my desired FUTURE state. It’s something I want to get to, getting upset about where I am today does NOTHING to help me get to the future I want. Instead, I revisit my assumptions, inputs and activities to hit my future DFS (in my case, no more trader joes dark chocolate peanut butter cups).

3) Not calibrating DFS to current reality - This is different than #1. If I weigh 185 lbs and I say: next week I want to weigh 170 and have 5% body fat. That is NOT calibrated. Time is the key variable here. Could I achieve that in a year? Probably. But not a week. There is nuance here of course to make the DFS have enough “tension” but not too much/too little. Dialing this in is key!

So there you have it: The starting point and an amazing tool for any entrepreneur (or leader).

Can you send me your one sentence DFS for your business?


PS - Want the full DFS cheatsheet? Get it here!

PPS - Wanna chat with me? I'm on Intro, schedule a call here!